Can dietary supplements & vitamins be harmful?
Today, people take a wide variety of supplements to support their health and well-being. However, this practice comes with some risks. Because supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), manufacturers are free to formulate them in any way they choose. This can make it challenging for consumers to understand what they’re getting, let alone know if taking these popular supplements is safe or dangerous.
While there are many myths about how dangerous taking daily supplements can be, talking with your doctor is a good place to start before you consider adding an unfamiliar supplement to your regimen. You may be surprised at how little information most doctors have on the topic of supplements and what those risks really are.
The answer will depend on many different factors including the type of supplements you take, how often you take them, your general health and other factors that impact your risk of harm or drug interactions from taking daily supplements (or not).
Here’s more about the potential risks of taking daily supplements and what you need to know about avoiding unnecessary risk when shopping for vitamins and minerals at the store or online.
What are the risks of taking daily dietary supplements?
There are a number of risks associated with taking dietary supplements. For example, you can overdose on certain vitamins and minerals if you take too much or take them in an incorrect dose. If your daily supplement regimen is not well-planned and balanced, the side effects may be more significant than they need to be.
There’s also the risk that you could develop an allergic reaction or a drug interaction depending on the medicines you take. It's also important to consider what risks come with unsafe dietary sources for nutrients, such as food additives and food processing techniques that significantly alter the nutrient content of food products.
The risks may depend on what part of the world you live in, how much processed food you eat, and how sensitive your body is to consuming processed foods and other possible toxins.
Which vitamins and minerals are most likely to cause harm or drug interactions?
When shopping for vitamins and minerals, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re taking. Vitamins and minerals are typically divided into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. The former are easy to digest and can be washed off with water, while the latter require bile acids to break them down.
The most common types of supplements that can cause harm are those that contain high levels of either vitamin A or iron.
Vitamin A overdose, which is easily caused by consuming too many beta-carotene supplements, can lead to liver damage in some cases. Iron toxicity, which is often caused by supplementing with iron supplements, can cause significant complications including damage to the nervous system and organ damage such as heart disease.
Other supplements that may pose a risk include those made from green tea extract or caffeine.
What about the B vitamins?
Many people take B vitamins as dietary supplements to improve their mood, cognition and overall health. While there’s not much scientific evidence supporting the use of B vitamins for cognitive function, many doctors recommend a daily dose of these vitamins in order to prevent age-related cognitive decline. Still, it is important to note that those with a history of heart disease should avoid large doses of B vitamins because they may increase the risk of heart attack.
Is there any evidence backing up daily calcium supplements?
The most common supplement is calcium, and there is some evidence to suggest that calcium supplementation may be beneficial for bone health. However, a systematic review of the RCTs on calcium supplements found that there was little evidence that daily calcium supplementation increased bone mineral density (BMD) or reduced the risk of fractures. This review also found that the data were inconsistent when it came to how much calcium people needed, what type or dose they should take, and whether or not taking them with food would have any effect on their absorption.
Should women take calcium supplements? Talk with your health care provider
Although women have been advised to get daily calcium intake, additional research has shown that high doses of calcium may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in women. The FDA recommends that adults get 1,200-1,500 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day, but it’s important not to exceed 4,000 mg in any 24-hour period. Some food sources of calcium include cheese, sardines and broccoli. According to the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), the body gets 50-80 percent of its daily requirement from food alone without supplements.
For pregnant or lactating women, a dietary supplement is recommended to ensure adequate nutrition. If you take a multivitamin or other nutritional supplement on a daily basis, it’s smart to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how much of that supplement is enough and how often you should be taking it so as not to risk harming your health.
Does iron cause harm in people with or at risk of iron deficiency?
Iron is a naturally occurring nutrient that your body needs to function properly. If you are iron deficient, you may experience fatigue as well as other symptoms such as difficulty concentrating or shortness of breath. By taking iron supplements, your risk of harm is elevated, which can result in headaches, vomiting and more serious side effects. In many cases, side effects are rare but they do occur with some frequency. These side effects can include diarrhea and constipation, and sometimes nausea. In the rare instance that you experience these side effects, contact your doctor immediately to get treatment. There are also some risks associated with supplementing with iron if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnant woman who take iron supplements in the first trimester have an increased chance of having a baby born prematurely or with low birth weight when compared to those who don't take iron supplements during this time period. If you're breastfeeding, there's evidence to suggest that taking supplemental iron from the third trimester on is not only safe for the infant but can actually help prevent anemia in mom and baby alike during infancy.
Is there any evidence that supports daily zinc supplementation?
There is no evidence that supports daily zinc supplementation. The recommended daily allowance of zinc is 11mg, but there are many different supplements out there that can range from 300-15,000mg, which could increase your risk for side effects.
Should vegetarians take an extra B-complex every day?
Many vegetarians take an extra B-complex daily to ensure that their diet is well-rounded. This practice may be necessary for those with certain nutrient deficiency disorders, but it's important to note that these supplements are not regulated by the FDA and some of them are potentially harmful.
The best way to know what you need is to speak with your doctor or nutritionist about your specific dietary concerns. Your doctor will be able to recommend a vitamin or mineral supplement based on your lifestyle and health needs, but it’s important to keep in mind that many supplements aren't regulated by the FDA and some can have adverse effects. Many vegetarians rely on vitamin B-12 supplements, but this too isn't regulated and may not be appropriate for all vegetarians.
It's best to consult with your doctor before you start taking any additional supplements as they may be unnecessary or could cause harm if taken improperly.
Should you avoid multivitamins and mineral supplements altogether?
If you take supplements regularly, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of doing so. There is no need to avoid multivitamins and mineral supplements altogether, but know that they can cause problems if they don’t work well in sync with your body.
For example, megadoses of calcium can lead to kidney stones and smaller doses may result in diarrhea. It's important to talk with your doctor before adding these supplements to your routine.
On the other hand, some research suggests that taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement reduces the risk of heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease or have any signs or symptoms of this condition, then it's probably wise to discuss the risks and benefits of taking multivitamins before adding them into your day-to-day life.
Summary: what to know about dietary supplements
There are some risks to taking daily supplements. As with any medicine, supplements can have a variety of side effects that may make them unsuitable for certain people. Before you begin taking a supplement, talk to your doctor to get his or her opinion on the safety of the supplement and whether it's appropriate for you.
What are the benefits and risks of taking supplements?
There are many health concerns that can be improved by taking supplements. For example, purchasing a fish oil supplement may support your heart health by optimising your omega 3 to 6 ratio. Additionally, vitamin D is important for bone health and can be obtained from the vitamin D in fortified foods or supplements. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some supplements that have been associated with serious safety concerns. For example, niacin (vitamin B3) has been linked with increased risks of liver damage and cardiovascular events in clinical studies. Similarly, with vitamin A, it is possible to overdose which can lead to hypervitaminosis A syndrome. There are also some supplements that may not be safe for everyone: iron supplements have been associated with gastrointestinal bleeding and iron overload. And while taking multivitamins can help your overall nutrition, there is no evidence that they impact disease risk in a meaningful way.
What are the most popular supplements taken by Americans?
The most common supplements taken by Americans include vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein. Vitamins and minerals A wide range of vitamins and minerals are taken by Americans. Some examples include vitamin C, E, and B12; chromium, zinc, and magnesium; and vitamin D, folate, and choline. Omega-3 fatty acids Americans tend to focus on omega-3s when it comes to supplements. Examples include flaxseed or fish oil capsules or soft gels; krill oil or cod liver oil; and purified eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Protein Protein is generally considered safe to supplement with as it can be found in meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Some examples of protein powders include whey isolate protein (complete), egg white powdered protein powder (egg albumen), and casein protein shake powder.
What are the most dangerous supplements?
A variety of supplements are available that can help support your health and well-being. However, these products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so you do not know exactly what’s in them. This can make them difficult to trust. There is a lot of confusion around how dangerous supplements can be.
Vitamin D pills: Vitamin D pills are often used to increase vitamin D levels in the body as it works as a hormone in the body which regulates calcium and phosphorus absorption into the bloodstream and other vital roles in the body with strong links to supporting our immune system and helping us battle pollution induced chronic diseases The use of high-dose vitamin D pills has been discouraged due to doubts over their safety, especially in patients with underlying illness or who take prescription medications The main concern being their side-effect of hypercalcaemia; an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood circulation. This condition can result in nausea, fatigue and constipation amongst other symptoms.
Omega 3 fish oil capsules: Fish oil capsules contain high amounts of omega 3 fats which are known as essential fatty acids (EFAs) but these EFAs may not be good for us; EFAs may interfere with our natural endothelial function which affects blood pressure regulation leading potentially to high blood pressure.